The first time my dad took me to a Cleveland Browns football game, I clambered onto his lap in my three layers of clothes, placed my double-gloved hands onto his cheeks and looked him straight in the eyes as I implored, “Daddy. When are we leaving?” Our timely exit after the first quarter marked the beginning of my Cleveland fanship.
The thing is, though, in Cleveland, like the fickle weather that gives you both sweet green April days and blinding blizzards in the same week, there are no accommodations for fair weather fans like me. There are rarely any seasons of great victory, of bandwagon folks hopping happily onto the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA, to be taken downtown with crisp new jerseys and certitude that it will be yet another great season. Rather, there are mostly T-shirts with layers of duct tape over where names were, worn while reading the dismal renunciations headlining Plain Dealer articles with the bleak underpinnings of “Maybe next year.”
When LeBron James proclaimed, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given, everything is earned,” he may have been talking about his hopes to finally bring home a championship after 52 years, but he was also talking about Cleveland fanship as well. You bundle up for Browns games even when it’s cold, you get OK with disappointment, OK with yet another player not meeting their potential or leaving too soon and, certainly, OK with losing.
But almost two weeks ago, a series of some magical things happened, starting with the Cavs winning two games at home to come back from a fairly embarrassing 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals. A mythological winner-take-all Game 7 took place June 19, at 5 p.m. Pacific Time — but for me, 3 a.m. Israel Standard Time, where I inhabited an overpacked American bar on a beach off the Mediterranean appropriately named Mike’s Place. As LeBron and the boys prepared for the biggest game of their lives, the heat began to settle into the Israeli night. The beers were flowing as Americans from all over Tel Aviv, both Cavs and Warriors fans — and just basketball fans alike — shoved themselves in front of the various large TV screens. Despite the early tip off, something inside each of us felt both very alive and very aware of the possibility of what this night could be for our city.
But we know how this ends, and I am writing for a newspaper with a solid Warriors fan base. And I am not here to gloat (mostly) — I have no right to, because I am a self-proclaimed fairweather fan. But I experienced a form of magic that night, one that lives beyond sports rivalries and million dollar contracts, beyond big names and fancy trophies.
As the seconds ticked down and the Cavs continuously fell to the Warriors by small margins, the surrounding Cleveland fans and I shook. I pushed away the second beer handed to me, the thought of missing a second of the game to pee was intolerable. And when we went up three points at the end, the Tel Aviv sun rising behind us, I was transported home. It didn’t matter that my family and all my friends were on the other side of the world watching. I understood: This is why people love sports, why people like my 89-year-old grandfather had spent every year since 1926 at the Cleveland sports games, cheering and supporting his team despite all the hardship.
I may have asked my dad to leave my first football game after the first quarter, and I may still be very much a fairweather fan, but the feeling of absolute joy I felt when the Cavaliers pulled off their 93-89 win is unparallelled. I felt connected to my city in a way I never had before. And weeks later, I can still feel the power of Cleveland.
Contact Sarah Adler at [email protected].